In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public Opinion

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Best Practices
  • Data Archives
  • Journals
  • Definitions and Functions

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Communication Public Opinion
Patricia Moy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0083


The communication scholar’s approach to the study of public opinion emphasizes the role that mass media and interpersonal discussion play in shaping people’s attitudes, behaviors, and cognitions. Recognizing how the communication of public opinion can affect how citizens feel and what they do regarding an issue, scholars are concerned with the accuracy, quantity, and overall quality of media reports of that issue. They also investigate how interacting with individuals can shape people’s attitudes and behaviors. Studies of public opinion examine how individuals, groups, organizations, and other entities respond to expressions of opinion, and they delineate the processes by which individual opinions shape public policy. By definition, then, public opinion research is concerned with phenomena at the micro, meso, and macro levels, and, regardless of the level of analysis, can be applied to understanding social and political issues in democratic and nondemocratic systems.


Public opinion textbooks generally revolve around normative issues related to democracy and citizenship, include public opinion theories and processes, and identify the role that communication plays in shaping public opinion. Authors of textbooks can differ in their epistemological approach. Clawson and Oxley 2008, Glynn, et al. 2004, and Price 1992 are more social scientific in their discussions, using theory and data to explain public opinion processes. Similarly, Splichal 1999 examines normative concerns related to public opinion but adopts a critical perspective that emphasizes social critique and social change. It is rare to find a textbook that equally emphasizes social scientific and critical perspectives.

  • Clawson, Rosalee A., and Zoe M. Oxley. 2008. Public opinion: Democratic ideals, democratic practice. Washington, DC: CQ.

    Geared toward undergraduates, this textbook tackles various aspects of public opinion as they relate to democratic norms. (chapter 3 relates to mass media). The authors evenly balance theory with data, and the brief list of suggested readings at the end of each chapter provides a useful resource for motivated students.

  • Glynn, Carroll J., Susan Herbst, Garrett J. O’Keefe, Robert Y. Shapiro, and Mark Lindeman. 2004. Public opinion. 2d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview.

    This undergraduate text draws explicitly from many disciplines—communication, political science, sociology, and psychology—to provide a broad theoretical perspective to the field. The authors supplement their theoretically oriented chapters with chapters on methodology, history, definitions, and larger political contexts. Up-to-date examples and excerpts from primary texts sprinkled throughout the text help readers to apply various concepts.

  • Price, Vincent. 1992. Public opinion. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

    This slim monograph is an invaluable resource for undergraduates and graduates who desire an introduction to the historical, theoretical, sociological, psychological, and normative aspects of public opinion. The monograph maps the contours of the field, and its success is reflected in its having been translated into Spanish, Korean, Greek, and Italian.

  • Splichal, Slavko. 1999. Public opinion: Developments and controversies in the twentieth century. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

    This textbook for advanced undergraduates and graduates takes a critical approach to the study of public opinion. The volume can be assigned in its entirety or as stand-alone chapters, as each chapter revolves around a different development or controversy. It nicely supplements the contributions in Glasser and Salmon 1995 (cited under Anthologies).

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